Oscars? When will we have “The Abdullahs?”
Hollywood has been at war with the Arab World since it produced its very first movie. And it is has only gotten worse. Hollywood is one of the biggest contributory factors fueling anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism and hatred, despite their occasional words of “diversity.” Not since Vanessa Redgrave stood up to Israeli bullying 40 years ago has the Oscars ever included any fairness or justice. I don’t watch the Oscars any more. They are the enemy.
Arab News March 7, 2018
By Ray Hanania
At no other moment in American life do Arabs feel so marginalized each year than during the presentation of the Oscars at the Academy Awards.
This past Sunday, the Oscars marked their 90th year celebrating “great” movies. While this year’s Oscars did not have the usual anti-Arab themes or characters that frequent American films, I just couldn’t watch.
Don’t get me wrong, I love movies. As an Arab American, though, I favor films a center genre where the villains are not human, Science Fiction.
Nothing pushes humans to come together and forget their mutual differences or hatred of each other more than the fear of a greater threat, like aliens.
It was something my parents passed on to me as a young child. Mom and dad were refugees of varying degrees from the Israeli destruction of Palestine in 1947-48. They chose to avoid films that portrayed Arabs as villains, even when those films were the most celebrated releases in the world. The movies we watched were “Westerns,” a genre about Cowboys killing Indians, especially those featuring the gun-toting cowboy and Hollywood tough-guy, John Wayne.
John Wayne didn’t kill Arabs in his movies. I realized that we had merely substituted Native American suffering for Arab suffering. That was wrong, but did we have a choice? We didn’t enjoy the killing of Native Americans, either.
Hollywood is a factory conveyer belt of films that demonizes people for profit. It’s a sick form of entertainment that often has a political purpose. The villains were Chinese, then Blacks, then Asians, and Native Americans. And then it was the ultimate quintessential villain the Arabs. And that crown has not been taken from us yet.
Although there continues to be exploitation of other ethnic groups, they are given balance – or maybe, they created that balance themselves. In many instances where there are negative portrayals of Blacks, Asians or Native Americans in today’s movies, they are balanced-off by positive portrayals of the same people.
That’s the kind of balance denied to Arabs. When Arabs are demonized, it’s unrivaled.
In recent years, many of the worst Hollywood movie offenders have moved away from demonizing Arabs. That comes from the movement to reject religious hatred against Muslims. Americans are not really the smartest people when it comes to the Middle East. They think every Muslim is an Arab, and every Arab is a Muslim. Maybe that’s because the majority are.
Yes, it is happening in America. “Muslims” are receiving respect and recognition, although not as much as they deserve, while “Arabs” remain the “four letter word,” a euphemism for profanity.
There have been a few moments in Oscar History that I’ve written about where the Arab pride has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of hatred to confront Hollywood’s vicious, anti-Arab hate.
In 1978, actress Vanessa Redgrave courageously stood up against the bullying of pro-Israel fanatics protesting outside the Academy Awards, only to be maligned by anti-Arab movie filmmaker Paddy Chayefsky inside. Redgrave produced a documentary called “The Palestinians” which celebrated the struggle of the Palestinians against Israeli oppression. Chayefsky is the producer of one of the most infamous anti-Arab movies, “Network.”
No institution has done more harm to the image of Arabs than Hollywood. And yet, what have Arabs done about it?
We go to movie theaters and shrug-off the hate-filled anti-Arab moments and characters. We turn on our television sets and watch commercial after commercial promoting new remakes of pro-Israel movies that defame Palestinian history. How many movies have been made about the 1972 Palestinian terrorist attack against Israeli athletes in Munich before filmmaker Steven Spielberg tried to present it in a more balanced manner? Spielberg was denounced by Israel’s government for making his 2005 version of the attack, “Munich,” because the movie included insight into Palestinian suffering as a cause of the violent resistance.
Did you know that if you push people too far, too hard, and too long, they will one-day stand up and fight back?
Maybe we Arabs continue to return to the theater and our television sets hoping that someone has found another way.
Yet, it has now been 40 years since that brief moment when Arabs across America were able to stand up and cheer Vanessa Redgrave’s courage, pumping our fists into the air in pride, to counter years of movie oppression. Forty years have passed, and that one single moment is all that we can cling to when it comes to presenting our tragic story to the world in film?
Where is the movie about Palestine’s Munich, Israel’s repeated massacre of civilians in Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014? Or, movies about other Israeli atrocities like Sabra and Shatilla, Deir Yassin, Kafr Qassem and an endless list that should be detailed in indictments in thehands of prosecutors at the International Criminal Court.
Is it because Arab suffering has been far greater than Israeli suffering that our stories have never made it to the “big screen?” They’re too gruesome? Is it because Arabs lack the resources or talent to tell our own story n film? Must we always be disappointed that our story of real suffering and tragedy fails to break out on the “Silver Screen?”
If Hollywood won’t acknowledge our story, we should do it ourselves. We should create our own Oscars, “The Abdullahs,” my conception of a platinum statue with an arm raised high celebrating achievement in the story-telling of real tragedy in human behavior.
It’s not like there isn’t enough material out there to fill a compendium of Palestinian and Arab tragedy.